Miller-Young and University of California Sued Over Campus Assault On Pro-Life Advocates

milleryoungincident2 We have been following the controversy surrounding the confrontation of Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young with pro-life advocates on campus. Miller-Young led her students in attacking the pro-life display, stealing their display, and then committing battery on one of the young women. Thrin Short, 16, and her sister Joan, 21, filed complaints and Miller-Young was charged with criminal conduct including Theft From Person; Battery; and Vandalism. Miller-Young was convicted and sentenced in August. Despite the shocking conduct of Miller-Young and the clear violation of the most fundamental values for all academics in guaranteeing free speech and associational rights, the faculty overwhelmingly supported Miller-Young and the university decided not to impose any meaningful discipline. Now, the victims are suing Miller-Young, the UC Regents and others in seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit could finally force the University to explain its inexplicable response, or lack thereof, to the highly improper conduct of Miller-Young. As discussed below, Michael D. Young, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, not only issued a statement that seemed to blame the victims but faculty defended Miller-Young’s conduct, including arguments that the pro-life advocates were “terrorists”; Miller-Young’s response was due to that fact that she was pregnant and even that her expression of satisfaction was nothing more than her “mask” from a “cultural legacy of slavery.” Those arguments are likely to find little traction in a court of law.

The nine-page complaint was filed Thursday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court by Life Legal Defense Foundation. As discussed below, it could raise some interesting vicarious liability and discovery issues.

While I have been criticized on this blog for my objection to the lack of serious institutional discipline for Miller-Young by the university, I continue to view her conduct as anathema to all intellectuals and these defenses as not just immaterial but bizarre. Indeed, female professors have fought for decades to refute arguments that such conditions as pregnancies make them emotionally vulnerable or in any way unable to conduct themselves as academics. More importantly, Miller-Young acted in the same way that critics of early feminists and birth control advocates responded to their protests. Feminist signs and protests were attacked and students censored for their views. However, it became clear later that students in her department have been taught that such action is not only justified but commendable. Pro-life advocates have been denounced as simply terrorists or haters who deserved what they got from Miller-Young and her students.

thrinshortmilleryoungThe Shorts were handing out pro-life pamphlets when they say Miller-Young confronted them and became irate over their demonstration. They videotaped her after she appeared to organize students in yelling “take down the sign.” They say that she grabbed the sign and walked off–ignoring the protests of the teenagers. Campus police were called and Short says that she was pushed by Miller-Young three times — leaving bruises on her wrists — at an elevator confrontation.

On the video below, Miller-Young is seen taking the sign with graphic images and saying “I may be a thief but you are a terrorist.” At the elevator, she can be seen shoving the teenagers and blocking them. The fact (as noted by her students) that the teenagers do not go to the school is no excuse for this type of conduct. If there was some real violation in the protests (which seems dubious), Miller-Young has no authority to quash the speech. This appears a clear content-based act by Miller-Young. It is even more disturbing to see her encouraging her students to silence opposing views by stealing a sign. It is the very antithesis of the academic mission which is based first and foremost on free speech and association — and civility.

Miller-Young lists her areas as “Pornography; Sex Work; Black Film, Popular Culture and Art; Feminist & Queer Theory; African American & African Diaspora Studies; Visual Archives; New Media; Ethnography; Oral History.” Her bio states that she focuses on pornography and African-American women.

Miller-Young’s view that pro-life advocates are “terrorists” were picked up by her students and continue to be heard in her defense. Others have insisted that such images were virtually hate speech when displayed in front of a pregnant woman (Miller-Young was three-months pregnant at the time).

paul_spickard_mVarious faculty members publicly supported Miller-Young and some wrote to the court to ask for leniency. Some publicly denounced the media and the victims in this case. History professor Paul Spikard (left) wrote to object to the court that Miller-Young is the victim of “an energetic smear campaign . . . fomenting racial hatred and rallying right-wing political sentiment.” He insisted that the media was intent on displaying another example of “an Angry Black Woman.” What is striking is that Spikard opposed even a mandatory anger management class in the case. It is hard to see how the media is concocting a smear campaign when a professor is seen stealing a display and trying to stop an act of free speech on campus. Most academics would be horrified by that scene, including professors who are not part of a “right-wing political” agenda. I have an academic agenda that includes faculty member respecting and encouraging free speech on campus. Spikard teaches social and cultural history and has a faculty bio stating that he has been “blessed to spend most of my life immersed in racial populations and cultural traditions that are different from my own.” I have no question that that experience has given him great insight into cultural and racial controversies. However, I fail to see the dominant race issue in a professor acting in this reprehensible and violent manner. We all teach different subjects but we are committed to an intellectual enterprise. We inherited a commitment as educators to protect the unique environment — and our students — on campus. It is not a protection from ideas but a protection of an environment for the free discussion of ideas. It is a safe harbor for ideas even when many would silence such debates outside of our walls. In this case, it was a professor who was physically seeking to silence those with opposing views.

eileen_borisAnother to the court came from Eileen Boris, a professor in the Department of Feminist Studies. Boris picked up on the earlier defense that the signs were traumatizing to a woman who was three-months pregnant. Boris told the court “she was at the stage of a pregnancy when one is not fully one’s self fully, so the image of a severed fetus appeared threatening.” Boris then tries to deal with the fact that Miller-Young is smiling and both she and her students appear to be proud of their actions in the video. Professor Boris dismisses the video record as misleading and inaccurate. She explained to the court that “[i]f she appears smiling on camera, she is ‘wearing the mask,’ that is, she is hiding her actual state through a strategy of self-presentation that is a cultural legacy of slavery.”

It is hard to see how a court is expected to ignore the record of the video under a “cultural legacy of slavery” claim. Miller-Young and her students referred to these young women as “terrorists” for voicing their views and creating their display. There was not a hint of hesitation on the video in seeking to stifle free speech.

I previously wrote a critical piece of the response by Michael D. Young, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs which seems to treat the pro-life demonstrators as the problem while encouraging faculty and students not to attack such “outsiders.”

In addition, some 2000 faculty and students have signed a petition in support of Miller-Young while only 150 have signed a counter petition calling for her termination.

milleryoungincident2Students have clearly learned a lesson from Professor Miller-Young that free speech is only protected when we agree with the message. Consider the truly chilling view of UCSB sophomore Katherine Wehler, a theater and feminist studies major: “They are domestic terrorists, because the definition of a terrorist is someone who terrorizes.” Wehler added:

“I have a lot of feminist friends that went to them [pro-life protesters] with an educated academic response, because they were extremely triggered by these images, and the activists were saying this is for ‘women’s rights,’ . . . As feminist scholars and activists, we were insulted to hear that their cause is for women’s rights, because we felt personally attacked as women. Then, we were repeatedly called murderers. That is not okay. . . In my opinion, Professor Miller-Young would never attack anyone as the media suggests unless feeling an invasion of her own personal space like anyone else would in a fight or flight situation . . . If the university did decide to revoke her employment, there would be a large uproar because she is so celebrated.”

These letters reflect how such views of intolerance can take hold in students. I have become alarmed by the increasing anti-speech activities by students. For decades, social activists, including feminists, faced this type of intimidation in having signs ripped down or being called criminals. Campuses were the bastions of free speech and students were its champions. Increasingly however the West seems to have lost patience with free speech and often the voices for speech regulation and even criminalization are coming from the left.

As someone long associated with the free speech community, I find the Miller-Young scandal — and the response to it by faculty and students — to be incredibly depressing and alarming. Much of the response from faculty appears to be influenced by their underlying agreement with the political views of Miller-Young. I would be surprised if the same response would be forthcoming if a conservative professor assaulted a pro-choice table and verbally denounced those arguing for the rights of women. In the end, it should not matter what the respective political views were in such confrontations. Faculty cannot lead a mob or fight the exercise of free speech without destroying the defining principles of our profession.

The lawsuit will now force the issue of the university’s lack of response. The lawsuit advances two claims based on the denial of federal and state free speech rights. One claim is based on the California Civil Code guaranteeing that the women would “be free from violence and intimidation by threat of violence against their property because of their religious and political beliefs and the peaceful lawful expression of those beliefs.” The fourth claim is a straight battery allegation.

The third claim is notable since it is part of the Hate Crime provisions generally supported by advocates as tools for fighting racism, sexism, and other prejudices.

Miller-Young only paid $492.40 in restitution to the Shorts and another $295 in fines. What will be interesting about the litigation will be the question of discovery and whether the court will allow the university’s post-event conduct to be considered as well as the question of scope of material that can be accessed by the plaintiffs. Miller-Young clearly committed acts that she admitted were criminal but also acts that constitute such torts as assault and battery. It is the nexus to the university that will be interesting. They could attempt simple vicarious liability through respondent superior. The classic defense is that she was acting outside the scope of her duties — a strong claim here. However, the lack of serious discipline conflicts with the defense on some level. Then there is the failure of the university to protect such free speech exercise — a claim that could make the later lack of action more material for discovery and trial.

The university can be expected to file robust dispositive motions. Yet, a total dismissal seems unlikely given the battery claims and the prior conviction. However, it could prune away a couple of the other claims. In doing so, the university would be arguing for a narrower reading of hate crimes provisions, an ironic position given the defenses raised by supporters of Miller-Young. The university could argue that an employer should not be liable for the actions of such an employee — a position that would be viewed as weakening these laws.

We will continue to follow the lawsuit.

169 thoughts on “Miller-Young and University of California Sued Over Campus Assault On Pro-Life Advocates”

  1. “there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a woman choosing to terminate a pregnancy,”

    “And I would never get an abortion myself. I am a Christian”

    I’m trying to reconcile these two statements without the word HYPOCRISY being included.

    What am I missing?

    1. Olly, I am not a hypocrite because I chose not to terminate a pregnancy. It is my body. Another Woman has her body and her set of morals and to subjugate her to a back street alley because of your insufferable belief is beyond belief. There are so many terminations of pregnancy in the Bible it is unbelievable. God sometimes kills newborn babies to punish their parents.

      Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. — 2 Samuel 12:14

      God sometimes causes abortions by cursing unfaithful wives.

      The priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell. And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. …
      And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed. — Numbers 5:21-21, 27-28

      God’s law sometimes requires the execution (by burning to death) of pregnant women.

      Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. — Genesis 38:24

      Explain all this away Olly. Because there is always more. Please do.

  2. rcocean – what is your problem? Many vile things come out of the right also whether you think so or not. Burning “witches” at the stake was vile in the extreme. Wanting to do away with every Muslim is Vile in the extreme because of their religion. I certainly get tired of the ad hominem attacks on this site and even though this one wasn’t directed at me, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a woman choosing to terminate a pregnancy, and furthermore, the hypocrisy is overwhelming as they are going to do it anyway and you would have them go to a back alley and poison themselves with your righteousness. And I would never get an abortion myself. I am a Christian, but I would never spew such self righteous vituperative poison. – end of rant – I feel better after listening to so much of this – 🙂

    1. There may be a few hard right people using the language you heard. But Republicans don’t do that. The crazies are out there, so don’t attribute what they say to Republicans. Nor any other group.

      1. Sandy, I don’t we are good. Most of my friends in town are Republican and very sweet. Really. I know what you mean. They have morals.

  3. “The speech that must be protected is unpopular, “tasteless” vile, uncomfortable speech.”

    Frankly I wouldn’t include “vile” but certainly the whole point is to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech needs no protection. The left of course WAS in favor of free speech when they were in the minority. The biggest boosters of free speech in Czarist Russia were the communists. Trotsky and Lenin LOVED freed speech before November 1917. After that, not so much.

    1. rcocean

      “rcocean – what is your problem? Many vile things come out of the right also whether you think so or not”

      Here’s my problem. Why don’t you left-of-center types EVER criticize the Left for attacking free speech. You k’now without people on the Right holding your feet to the fire until you say uncle, and actually do it ?

      And the “You too” argument is “the problem” too. It just shows that many on the left don’t really care about free speech, but view it simply as a left vs. Right issue.

      Hey – I just re read your comment – I think I misunderstood you. I do that from time to time. Unlike some people. I admit it. You were being facetious about the Neocons. I agree. Please, by all means. Free Speak away. Pardon Me Please 🙂

  4. MikeA, And as I said earlier, the significant burden this plaintiff will probably received will be paid by taxpayers, most of whom do not abide the culture promoted by this and most universities. The guilty parties pay nothing, the taxpayers bear the cost of the defense attorneys as well.

  5. In explaining why he did not know what or where “Maine” is, the student explained, “Well, you know I went to school at UCSB”

    1. Nick Spinelli – as to MikeA being a Third shift Shaman, I totally agree. Thank you Mike ! 🙂 Thank you for a great article JT !

  6. “You can thank liberals for the First Amendment jurisprudence those decades produced.

    They ended up destroying it.
    I won’t thank them for their brief seemingly libertarian effort, much as their real effort was to upend the Constitution.

  7. Mike Appleton, that was the only sane thing said on this thread. Thank you very much. I am very Progressive Socially but a bit of a Libertarian Right Economically Speaking. I am a Calvinist, what can I say lol

  8. Pogo:

    You were apparently either not around or were sleeping during the ’50s and ’60s. You can thank liberals for the First Amendment jurisprudence those decades produced.

  9. Those who have been around this site for any length of time would probably agree that my opinions are substantially to the left of many of the other commenters here. I am a liberal and a feminist and a First Amendment absolutist. In my view there are no ideas, no ideologies, no religious beliefs, no fundamental principles that are not proper subjects for discussion, criticism, parody or ridicule. The protections of the First Amendment are available equally to the wise and to “tasteless sociopaths.”

    I do not regard Prof. Miller-Young as a true feminist. She is rather a Rush Limbaugh caricature of a feminist. Whatever the merits of her scholarly undertakings (and feminist studies is an important field of academic study), her actions in this instance, in addition to their criminality, were grossly violative of the First Amendment and of the idea of a university as a bastion of free thought and expression. Perhaps we should be grateful that she was unable to enlist Bull Connor and a few fire hoses to buttress her assault.

    Furthermore, I regard the university’s defenses of Prof. Miller-Young to be craven, cowardly and intellectually appalling. I find particularly offensive Prof. Boris’ references to the “cultural legacy of slavery.” Please. Prof. Miller-Young’s actions were angry, condescending, immature and unworthy of any adult of any race or gender.

    The university has effectively ratified criminal acts and ignored its obligation to promote free inquiry and protect the right to dissent. I suspect that a jury will demonstrate its disgust with a significant verdict.

  10. If pictures of aborted fetuses are just free speech, then free speech should cover swastikas and burning crosses. Yet those symbols are commonly used to intimidate; exactly the intent of aborted fetus pictures. They’re an image intended to intimidate women who believe in reproductive rights.

  11. Jill,
    “I am unequivocally pro choice. That is why the idea of physically harming a young woman is an anathema to me?”

    To translate, you said I’m undeniably in favor of having the right to kill innocent, unborn babies; that is why the idea of physically harming a young woman is an abomination to me.

    That’s some really twisted logic! WOW!!!

    And lorac, being pro-choice IS pro-killing, which IS exactly what “anti-life” means.

  12. How many kids in college have ever been taught that the first amendment and freedom of speech isn’t there to protect the popular speech? Freedom of speech protects the unpopular and offensive speech.

    It’s too bad that isn’t taught anymore by many institutions of higher education.

  13. Is anyone surprised!? You can’t constantly say “war on women ” and expect calm. Telling young girls they are losing their rights (Hillary, Elizabeth, et al) is going to get a reaction. Why are we arguing this over and over? I’ll tell you, it’s MONEY! Planned Parenthood’s donations are down. Hopefully, the Federal money will stop. Abortions will never be illegal again! Once the people have something, they don’t like giving it up (Prohibition). More and more abortions are being done by family physicians, Gynocologists, etc. Insurance pays for them; has for 20+ years. But telling young girls their reproduction rights are fading is a lie! Equal pay was a 60-70’s issue, which feminism took on and won! Our salaries went up as companies evaluated job similarities. Now we have football players making PSA’s about violence! Football is violent, basketball is violent, soccer is violent. I was abused once, and left. If I was a teenager, I’d be scared to grow up because it’s going to be horrible! Only if you listen to the purveyor of this junk. And any employee encouraging violence in students should be gone, period! Has anyone noticed that men don’t get hysterical over issues? The hyenas in front of the Supreme Court (Hobby Lobby) were embarrassing. And liars. I don’t want an hysterical woman as President. Let’s find our Margaret Thatcher!

Comments are closed.